The counter movement to last night’s “Jews Against the Internet” rally was pretty difficult to find. Outside of Citi Field, I had to ask two cops if they knew where it was—one of them didn’t. When I finally did find the 30 or so demonstrators, near Roosevelt Avenue and 126th Street, they said their protest amounted to a disagreement with how Orthodox money should be spent. I asked three male protestors to elaborate and they directed me to Ari Mandel, a sort of unofficial spokesman for the group. Mr. Mandel cited what he sees as the rampant sexual abuse in the Hasidic community:
“We’re protesting the lack of attention given to it or the cover up of it. If they spent half the amount of money that it cost them to pull this off, on preventing child sexual assault or sexual molestation, we probably wouldn’t be here.” he said. “It’s millions of dollars, clearly.”
“Sex with minors is illegal on the Internet, Why is it allowed in our Yeshivos?” read one sign. “The Internet never molested me,” read another, in the lap of a girl sitting on the sidewalk with about ten others. Their interest and dedication had clearly peaked earlier in the evening.
Before I’d even made it over to the protest, one Hasid stopped me on my way out of the stadium and grouped me in with the detractors—on account of my non-conforming haircut he later told me. He thought I was one of the “rabble rousers” there to “stir up trouble,” because he saw me recording audio. In response to my confusion he became embarassed and apologized for the assumption.
Despite my yarmulke and formal attire, the Hasid could tell that I had never set foot in a Yeshiva, “I almost passed you a note that said, ‘What’s up, undercover brother?’” he said.
Once I identified as a member of the press, this Hasid acknowledged the muddiness of the message and the Orthodox’s PR problem. He grappled to explain the importance of regulating the Internet and even how it affects his own life. When he’s on Facebook, it’s a moment that he’s not studying Torah, he explained. “I’d probably get more out of this conversation than I would in there,” he said as we exited Citi Field in the middle of a speech. There was no readmittance.